Whose Open Data Community is it? - Accepted Abstract

My paper titled 'Whose Open Data Community is it? Reflections on the Open Data Ecosystem in India' has been accepted for presentation at the Open Data Research Symposium to be held during the 3rd International Open Data Conference <http://opendatacon.org/> in Ottawa, Canada, on May 28-29 2015. The final paper will be shared by second week of May. Here is the accepted abstract.


Where are the NGOs?

On February 04, 2013, several members of the DataMeet group <http://datameet.org/> were invited by the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy ­Project Management Unit (NDSAP­-PMU) – the nodal agency responsible for developing, implementing, and managing the Open Government Data Platform of India <https://data.gov.in/> – to share thoughts on the status of the implementation of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), the open data policy of India, and discuss potentials for collaboration. A key proposal made by the NDSAP­PMU team regarding how DataMeet can contribute to the implementation process, involved DataMeet mobilising the developer community connected to the group to build applications that use the opened up data and demonstrate the value of open government data to drive greater contribution by government agencies and greater utilisation by citizen groups. For DataMeet, a network of open data users and advocates, this invitation to collaborate sets up a slightly different problematic than that in most of the cases of free and open source software development project. The task here is to develop projects that use already available data, which may not offer significantly return to investment at present, but will accellerate the process of opening up of more valuable government data.

However, building an application that effectively utilise government data to foreground a compelling argument or story requires more than a team of developers – it also require domain experts with a deep sense of the context from which the data is emanating. With a vibrant scene of non­governmental organisations involved in monitoring, analysis, and implementation of developmental projects, many of such domain experts in India are located within such organisations, with some being in the academic institutes too. Reporting from an open data community meeting organised by the World Bank at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, on December 10, 2014, Isha Parihar asks: “Where are the NGOs?” She points out that “[t]he discussions around open data [in India] also highlight the absence of non­profit organisations among the technology­focused groups, entrepreneurs, and businesses [1].” This observation is especially critical as the meeting was organsied by World Bank not only to gather public responses to be presented to Government of India, but also to take stock of the open data community in India. The absence of NGOs, although, does not indicate at the lack of interest of the non­governmental research and advocacy organisations in India to work with government data. Such organisations, on the contrary, have a long history of accessing, using, sharing, and communicating government data obtained through both proactive and reactive disclosure mechanism. While surveying such practices in a recent report, Sumandro Chattapadhyay argues [2] that the lack of a common understanding of the open data community in India emerges from both the lack of an established forum where commercial and non­-commercial re­users of data discuss and articulate their requirements and demands, and the existence of an established range of actors accessing, using, and re­sharing government data for commercial and non­commercial purposes who are still uncertain regarding how open government data will exactly transform and augment their existing practices.


Whose Open Data Community is it?

In the context of the emerging open data ecosystem in India, thus, the notion of the open data community comes forward as both the problem – in terms of the community not yet being there to effectively take forward the open data agenda – and the solution – as the component of the ecosystem that can successfully bridge gaps between interests and capacities of various stakeholders. Given the gap and the stakeholder concerned, the open data community is expected to perform various critical functions. This paper tracks these conceptualisations of open data community in India. Based upon conversations with fourteen organisations working across four cities in India, the question of 'whose open data community is it' is explored in this paper following three pathways – (1) by documenting how the understanding of the open data community, and the location of the organisation concerned in reference to that, changes across these organisations, (2) by describing how the idea of who all are included in the open data community in India changes across these organisations, and (3) by identifying how different organisations formulate the intended audiences of the open data community in India. In doing so, I argue that a range of critical challenges being experienced by the open data ecosystem in India often gets articulated as things that can be resolved by a more active and effective open data community. This distorts the distribution of responsbilities across various kinds of stakeholders for contributing to the open data ecosystem. In conclusion, I note the need to stop using open data community as a solution-­for­-all­-open­-data­-evils, and for a pragmatic approach to understand the kinds of open data challenges it can address, and those that it cannot.



[1] Parihar, Isha. 2015. On the Road to Open Data: Glimpses of the Discourse in India. Akvo. January 14. Accessed on March 02, 2015, from http://akvo.org/blog/on-the-road-to-open-data-glimpses-of-the-discourse-in-india/

[2] Chattapadhyay, Sumandro. 2014. Opening Government Data through Mediation: Exploring Roles, Practices and Strategies of (Potential) Data Intermediary Organisations in India. Accessed on March 02, 2015, from http://ajantriks.github.io/oddc/report/sumandro_oddc_project_report.pdf

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